Political civilization is not some sort of mysterious thing, but it is a social governance form. As long as countries and societies exist, a social governance form suited to its needs will emerge, and some sort of political civilization will come into being. The core of Western political civilization is “the Western democratic system”, it conforms to the national circumstances of some capitalist countries in Europe and America, and has powerfully moved forward the modernization process of these countries, it is an important component part of humankind’s political civilization, this should be fully affirmed. But in the last century, because their countries were strong, their heads inflated, and the fantasy that they were “saviours” multiplied, the rulers of these countries have embellished these social governance methods that are only suitable to a number of countries as being “universal values” and sold them forcibly to the entire world, they did not even hesitate to launch wars of aggression, bringing disaster and suffering to many places in the world. This sort of acts that is little short of insanity has impelled people to calm down, to see through this sort of “universal value”, and come back to its true colours.
I, Plato’s grudge
Western democracy originates with the Athens democracy in Ancient Greece. Athenian democracy was a crude form of democracy implemented in a city state. Even in such a small city state, the women and slaves who comprised the majority of the population did not have the right to vote or the right to be voted for. Only hale citizens composed the citizens’ assembly, which declared on declarations of war, peace-making, final judicial appeal and other major issues through acclamation or voting. Even so, among those male citizens who held equal voting rights, some were good, some were bad, and there was a wide gap between rich and poor. The decisions they voted through sometimes were completely absurd. For example, the famous thinker and educator Socrates was found by them to have committed the crime of “corrupting the thoughts of the youth”, and condemned to death.
Socrates’ student, Plato, was extremely resentful of this, and strongly censured the Athenian democracy for being “mob rule politics”. Plato was a great thinker who came 124 years later than Confucius, and he already saw the flaws within democracy at the moment of its sprouting. He believed that people’s wisdom, behaviour and abilities were different, and that Ancient Greek democracy denied these difference, by letting all male citizens decide great matters of state by one man, one vote. Such a democracy might lead to mob rule such as the tragedy of Socrates’ killing.
Later thinkers also deeply rethought Western democratic ideas. The French thinker Rousseau, who advocated that “sovereignty lies in the people”, analysed matters as follows in his book “On the Social Contract”: suppose that a country contained ten thousand citizens, according to the idea that sovereignty lies in the people, every citizen may enjoy one 10000th of sovereignty; if a country contained 100.000 citizens, every citizen could only enjoy one 100.000th of sovereignty. And so forth: the larger the country and the greater its population, the smaller the sovereignty that every citizen enjoys, and the worse the effects of democracy are. Rousseau himself has no way to resolve the difficulty that the larger a country is, the smaller citizen sovereignty and the worse the effects of democracy become. Without a choice, he reached a pessimistic conclusion, believing that only in countries with a small population and a small difference between rich and poor, it would be possible to establish an ideal democratic society. Another important French thinker, Voltaire, believed that democratic government was “only suitable for extremely small countries. And even there, mistakes could be made”.
Hayek is a master of Western liberalist theory. He defined democracy strictly as a sort of policymaking procedure, a sort of political method, and not as a final value. He said that only people’s freedom is the final value. In his “Road to Serfdom”, Hayek wrote: “We have inadvertently create a sort of democracy fetishism. Our generation may excessively discuss and ponder on democracy, but they have not sufficiently paid attention to the values that it must serve”.
Hayek’s point is very convincing. There truly are some such people in Western societies, who have forgotten Plato’s’ grudge, and who do not pay attention to the values that democracy must serve, they are only infatuated with creating a sort of “democratic fetishism”.
II, Einstein’s judgment
Einstein was a great natural scientist. But very many people know that Einstein was a terrific social scientist as well. He exposed the control of money over elections, and moved forward people’s understanding of Western democracy.
Western democracy rely for feeding on the milk of capital. In other words, the present Western democracy is democracy dominated by capital, and it is democracy controlled by great financial groups. This sort of nature of Western democracy was criticized already by Einstein. He wrote in his article “Why Socialism”: “Private capital tends to become concentrated in few hands […]. The result of these developments is an oligarchy of private capital the enormous power of which cannot be effectively checked even by a democratically organized political society. This is true since the members of legislative bodies are selected by political parties, largely financed or otherwise influenced by private capitalists who, for all practical purposes, separate the electorate from the legislature. The consequence is that the representatives of the people do not in fact sufficiently protect the interests of the underprivileged sections of the population. Moreover, under existing conditions, private capitalists inevitably control, directly or indirectly, the main sources of information (press, radio, education). It is thus extremely difficult, and indeed in most cases quite impossible, for the individual citizen to come to objective conclusions and to make intelligent use of his political rights”. Concerning Western democracy, Einstein’s judgment of “the oligarchy of private capital” hit the mark with one penetrating sentence, any segment of Western democracy can demonstrate the correct judgment of Einstein.
For example, the precondition of democracy is equality between people, and equality between people must be based on people’s independence. The bourgeois revolution smashed the feudal class system, pursuing people’s independence and freedom, this is very good. The problem is: are the absolute majority of people in capitalist societies truly independent? Marx hit the nail on the head when he pointed out that in capitalist societies, people’s independence is “based on dependence on things”. What Marx said to be “things”, meant the means of production and money. If the absolute majority of people in a society do not have means of production, and do not have sufficient money that they can spend freely, their independence is hollow, because they must rely on the small minority of capitalists who possess “things”. The cold reality that money decides everything has already brought utter ruin to the preconditions for democracy.
Another example is that the original idea of democracy was “the people decide”. But in Western democracies, from voting in elections and forming governments to formulating and implementing laws and policies, those truly making the decisions are not the popular masses but the small minority of financial oligarchs. Taking Western elections as an example, all people participating in presidential, gubernatorial or parliamentary elections, must pay “earnest money” according to regulations. If they do not gain a certain level of support in the election, the “earnest money” must be confiscated. Naturally, if someone is a member of a political party, they will gain the support of the party in the elections, and the party will give them subsidies to participate in the election. The problem is that there are many constituencies in a country, and the subsidy that the party gives to every candidate member, added together, is an immense sum. Apart from national political parties with solid financial resources, common small parties do not dare to participate in national election campaigns. It can be seen that only this juncture of earnest money to participate in elections has kept thousands of common people outside the door as groups and parties participate in elections.
The electoral processes in Western democracies are very long, expenses are huge as well, this is sufficient to wear down political parties with limited financial means, and guarantee that the electoral process is completely monopolized in the hands of big financial oligarchs. In the US, there aren’t many large financial groups who can truly control electoral politics. During electoral periods, “Super-Political Action Committees” are extremely dynamic, this sort of committee may receive funds without limits, and provide subsidies to specific candidates. This provides extremely convenient conditions for large financial oligarchs to control elections.
The US democracy in fact is a money democracy, it is what Einstein called the “oligarchy of private capital”, US rulers know this tacitly. Mark Hanna, who helped William McKinley win the 1896 presidential election, revealed the essentials of this sort of democracy. He said: “To win an election, you need two things. One is money, the second one, I’ve forgotten.”
It seems as if the US president has become a “special privilege” of the rich and powerful. Some people said that the first president, Washington, was a farmer with a petty background. In fact, the father of Washington was a large manor owner, who held more than 10.000 acres of land and 49 slaves. Washington himself was listed by the magazine “Forbes” as one of the “400 rich and powerful” in the US of that time. The 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, regularly talked about being penniless and frustrated when he was young, in fact, his father was a large landowner in Kentucky, and held 600 acres of farmland and a large amount of urban land.
History scholars have calculated that, in all elections from 1860 to 2008, the side with larger electoral funding won. For example, in the 1860 election, the Republican party prepared 100.000 US Dollars, and the Democratic party 50.000 US Dollars, the result was that the Republican candidate Lincoln won. In 2008, during the contest between Obama and McCain, the Republican Party only prepared 300 million US dollars, naturally, Obama won, and became the first black president in US history.
US elections have become political games and extravagant contests, campaign expenses incessantly break new records. In 1980, 162 million US Dollars were spent for the elections, which doubled in 1988 to 324 million US Dollars. In 2000, it shot up to 529 million US Dollars. A new height was achieved in 2004, of 881 million US Dollars. In the 2008 US election, no less than 2.4 billion US dollars was spent.
In terms of the large financial groups contributing to the elections, the electoral process is an investment process. The risks indeed exists, but the reward is very rich as well. Whenever the candidate of a certain political party becomes president, he may immediately reciprocate his paymasters and benefactors. The most direct method is the allocation of official positions, according to the size of political contributions, big and small official positions are allocated to all large financial groups. In the US, in the governments from 1953 until 1980, 23 people assumed the important positions of Secretary of State, Secretary of the Treasury and Secretary of Defence. Among those, 18 where chairs of large companies, general managers or high-level directors, the five others where big lawyers. Among the 120 high officials that President Truman appointed, 49 were bankers and industrialists, the others were all closely related to large financial groups. During the Eisenhower administration, in total, 272 high officials mainly came from 86 large companies.
A debt of gratitude must be paid in parliamentary elections as well, the parliamentary operations and mechanisms of Western countries are designed to make it convenient for members to do so. In the US, for example, bills must be entered on the parliamentary agenda, and must first and foremost be passed by a standing committee of the parliament. Bills benefiting large financial groups may be given preference in deliberation and passing, bills not benefiting large financial groups but benefiting the popular masses will be delayed endlessly. The members making up this sort of standing committee are not elected, but appointed on the basis of the power of each party, and on the basis of the power of each large financial groups. With such operative mechanisms, it can be ensured that the interests of large financial groups are guaranteed by State laws and policies.
All countries’ parliaments have established time limits for the deliberation and passing of bills, the objective being to prevent that bills not beneficial for large financial groups are passed. Conflicts exist between the interests of large financial groups, this sort of conflict of interests naturally us reflected in the struggle between members of parliament. Sometimes, bills not beneficial to a certain large financial group may break through the pass of the standing committee, and brought to the plenary meeting for deliberation. Under this sort of situation, the members groomed by this large financial group will use tricks in debates and votes to destroy this bill.
According to parliamentary rules, there are time limits to deliberate and pass bills, but there are no time limits for members’ speeches and voting. In 1908, Congressman Ford continued to speak for 18 hours against a bill, one of his fellow party members also spoke continuously for 12 hours, ensuring that the bill exceeded the time limit for a vote and as defeated. Apart from the marathon-type speeches in the Japanese Diet, it has also created a “cow pace voting method”, used to oppose bills that they do not like They use the rule that parliament does not have a time limit for votes, to walk slowly to the voting point, even only taking one step in an hour. Because of this, the time limit for the ending of deliberation is often exceeded, and they have not voted.
If a bill to repay large financial groups is difficult to pass, governments implementing Western democracy even may employ ruthless means to force its passing. In May 1960, the US and Japan concluded the “US-Japan Security Treaty”, which was protested by the Japanese people and resisted by the opposition. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party instigated that their members provoked a clash with the opposition parties, and soon after that, the government dispatched 500 policemen to forcibly drive out the opposition party members from the parliamentary building, so that it was deliberated uniformly by Liberal Democratic Party members. In only 15 minutes, the “US-Japan Security Treaty” was passed.
III, The difficulties of Western democracy
The Western democratic system is a major result of the process of humankind’s political civilization exploration, and it has helped Western countries to be the first to realize modernization. Even so, we must, at the same time as affirming the historical value of Western democracy, bear this fact in mind: the golden age of Western democracy was closely linked with the hegemonic position of these countries in the world. In the one or two hundred years of history until today, Western countries have had strong economic power and military power, and monopolized international discourse power. They were nearly permitted to mould the global order as they pleased. This sort of strong position has enabled the ruling class in those hegemonic countries to seize the wealth of the world and monopolize global assets. they took out a small part from their super profits to win over domestic citizens , forge a welfare society, embellish parliamentary democracy, and push this towards the world, in an attempt to eternally guide the development orientation of human societies.
Power politics believes that the cliques of the wealthy inevitably must be the locality of truth. But, if they cannot fish for super profits abroad as they used to, they may run into inexhaustible trouble. The wealth basis supporting Western democracies has already crumbled in many places. The real economy has been “hollowed out”, and governments and citizens wallow in a virtual economy. They can equally not do without the welfare of leisure and delicious food, and they absolutely do not want to do sweaty and difficult labour. In order to wangle votes, politicians’ phony promises are constantly changing, to continuously raise electors’ appetites. But, after winning elections and holding power, they all must fulfil some of their commitments. How is this to be done without money? The US, Europe and Japan are all printing stacks of bank notes and hugely increasing national debt, they use makeshift measures that compound their difficulties to preserve the “splendid” Western democratic system. As such things have come to pass, the “universal values” of Western democracy cannot only not sustain their case, but have sunk into a deep crisis.
The “universal values theory” asserts that only competitive elections with one votes per person are democratic and legitimate. How about this in fact? Leaving aside that many ballots are manipulated by large wealthy groups, and even if it is true that electors elect a president by one vote per person, that does not demonstrate that he has gained the support of the majority of citizens. Take the US for example, in the 1960 presidential elections, only 62.8% of the electorate participated in the vote. In 1964, voting rates dropped to 61.9%, to 60.8% in 1968, to 55.2% in 1972, to 53.6% in 1976, to 52.6% in 1980, to 50.2% in 1988 and to 49.1% in 1996. Generally speaking, the number of participating voters strains to pass the halfway mark, and those running for victory only get the support of only a part of the people in that half of the electorate. In Bush’s victory in 2004, he gained 51% of the vote. But when considering that the real voter turnout rate in that year was not high, the number of people who really supported little Bush to be president, only made up about 30% of the electorate. Where is the legitimacy of a president and a government of a large country, who only gain so little support from the citizens? Can such an unbalanced democracy call itself a “universal value”?
Checks, balances and supervision in themselves are necessary conditions for democracy, but the US checks and balances on power are numerous and complex. The president, the House of Representatives and the Senate mutually undercut each other, within the two houses, the two parties are also opposed, and they can basically not concentrate their forces to do great things. We see that even though the wheels of the US have already reached the “financial cliff”, congressmen of both parties and the president are still fighting a battle of words. How can this sort of hateful political competition and a tripartite balance of power realize good social governance?
The “universal values theory” asserts that only by implementing Western democracy, it is possible to prevent corruption. This is a deceptive lie. Western democracy only has endogenous elements for corruption. In Italy, it has emerged that three prime ministers and 361 members of the cabinet are corrupt. In the most “democratic” US, in the struggle between factions of the last few years, the tip of the iceberg has been exposed in relation to the inside scene of lobbying groups in Congress and government corruption. If this is investigated, it may well injure the government system and national system of the US, so the mutual exposure that has only just begun might end abruptly.
Essentially, the party competition in Western democracy is a sort of lawful corruption. Between politicians and financial groups, there is an unseverable financial umbilical cord. Financial groups use their money to buy votes for politicians, for those running for president, governor and congressman; the victor uses his official position, preferential policies and programme contracting to reciprocate to their financial group paymaster. Is this sort of large-scale and long-time deal between power and money not the largest corruption in human society?
History has developed until the present, and the halo of Western democracy is dimming in the eyes of people worldwide. Even in Western countries, there are not a few people with a broad vision who have suddenly woken op. They recall the grudge of Plato, they recall Einstein’s argument concerning “the oligarchy of private wealth”, they suffer deep heartache from the worsening of Western democracy, and attempt to put forward a number of reform ideas to overcome the social crisis in Western countries. It should be said that this is a positive phenomenon with global significance.
(This article is a section of Chapter IV of Wang Tianxi’s “On the China Model”. This journal has made appropriate abridgements during editing.)